I'll Take the Scratches and Dents



About four years ago, I traded in my '98 Chrysler Cirrus for an '08 Ford Focus. The choice had more to do with finances than what my heart really wanted. The new car had a bright red coat (not my preference), manual transmission (not my preference), but only 23,000 miles on it and a relatively tiny price tag (absolutely my preference).

Still, it was an upgrade over my rusted, air-condition-deficient Cirrus. As soon as I drove the new car, just dolled-up from the dealer's detailing job, off the lot, I had one mission concerning this vehicle: DO NOT SCRATCH OR OTHERWISE DO ANYTHING TO RUIN THE NEW-NESS OF THIS CAR.

I carried this mentality for the next few weeks--don't eat in the car. Don't set anything on the bumper when the trunk is open. Avoid parking near other cars. Especially the ones that have a ton of scratches and dents. Avoid parking under trees. Avoid gravel. Avoid anything that could ruin this precious, pristine condition of the car.

Basically, avoid the unavoidable.

The best thing that happened to me was about a month after I got the car. I parked it in the lot at work, leaving myself some buffer spaces between any other cars. At one point, I came out to grab something from the car and noticed that a car had parked right next to me. A little tight, too, if I might add. I gave the car the stink eye, grumbled something about "of all the spaces," and went back inside. At the end of the day, I came back out, and sure enough, there was a little ding in the passenger side door.

I legitimately went through the five stages of grief in the span of about two and a half minutes:

1. Denial: "No, no, no--this did not just happen!"

2. Anger: I knew which car had done it (because I had already envisioned this scenario playing out earlier and memorized the car in case this exact thing happened), and I was already trying to figure out which of my knives would be best to slash his tires the next morning.

3. Bargaining: "If only I had moved my car when I came out earlier...If only I had parked in the far corner of the lot...If only I had rode my bike to work today..." (I didn't have a bike. Nor the endurance to ride a bike that far.)

4. Depression: I had a cloud hanging over my head. After only a month, I had a dented car. I thought about the overblown price I'd have to pay if I wanted to have the little ding repaired. I thought about the shards of the dream of my picture-perfect new car that were lying on the pavement all around me.

5. Acceptance: As I looked at the dent in the car (from every angle possible), I realized it actually wasn't that noticeable. And then I felt something funny: relief. A lot of relief.

I didn't have to keep up this impossible task of protecting my car from the inevitable wear and tear a car I drive every day will accumulate. It's a good thing, too, because in the following months and years, I dropped a glob of gorilla glue on my driver's seat that's still petrified in place, knocked off the deer whistles from my front bumper (The previous owner installed them. Also, I live in Pennsylvania--this is like a thing here, apparently--the deer are more common than your neighbors.), ran through some wet cement that's permanently part of my paint job, ripped off part of my front bumper (and fixed it with a bungee cord), and amassed all kinds of scratches both outside and inside the car.

I have to say...I like it much better that way. I like driving my car more. I feel more free. It's allowed me to take this little Focus for thousands of miles of road trips to places as far as New Hampshire and Maine, across four national parks, and down rocky, dirt roads in the middle of the mountains.

I get that there are a lot of people who really dig pristine cars. Super nice cars. And spend tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to basically keep them in the garage or take them out for three leisurely drives a year.

Here's the thing, though--even when I get a chance to drive some really nice cars (and I've driven a few), I'm petrified. I'm too scared of any tiny little thing that could devalue it in any way. And I know anytime I've ridden in someone's nice car, it's cool for a little bit until I realize that I'm not allowed to eat in it, that my shoes are probably a bit too dirty for its plush carpets, and that even my breath is probably polluting its $60,000 air.

I'm just not one of those people who adores really nice cars. I keep saying that even if I won the lottery, I wouldn't go for a Lamborghini or Maserati. I'd get a Subaru Outback Sport and a Jeep Wrangler and would probably get them looking three years old in the matter of a week. Which I know is easy to say--but if anyone wants to give me a sizable chunk of money to put me to the test, I'll gladly accept the challenge.

For me, cars were meant to drive, not sit in the garage. They're meant to wear from use, not shine in the safety of show lights forever.

If you're feeling guilty about liking nice cars, I want you to stop. Because this is all just one giant, drawn-out, probably unnecessary metaphor for what I think about people.

I like my people the way I like my cars--with a few dents and scratches. And it's the kind of person I want to be for my friends.

I hope I'm never a Maserati to someone--flashy but inaccessible. Fun for one hot minute and completely impractical for anything else. I hope I can always be the Subaru that people want to take on a trip. I hope I'm the kind of car that you feel instantly at home with. It's okay if you drop some fries. It's okay if your shoes have some mud. When we ride, it's okay to "feel out" the space when parallel parking or drive too fast over a speed bump every once in a while.

I hope I'm the car that rides over 200,000 miles with you, and when I finally break down, you say, "We squeezed every drop out of this one. I couldn't ask for anything more."

We're made to drive and put on miles. The scratches and dents are all part of the deal. If you don't have some signs of wear and tear, you're not doing it right.

If you're feeling self conscious about your scars and stories, don't be. You're the kind of person we all actually want to ride with at the end of the day. The Maseratis are nice and everything, but the Focuses are the ones that will take us where we want to go in life.

Through the rough patches.

Through the potholes.

Through the gritty, salty winters.

Through the rain.

Through the rare hail storm.

Through every single bump, fender bender, and spilled coffee.

That's the kind of friend I want, the kind I want to be. The more scratches and dents, the better--we're doing it right.


I park wherever I want to: